“The Damaging Snowball Effect of Professionals’ Words”

snowball-rolling-downhill Sometimes you get a sense of something being up with peoples’ reactions to you, without knowing what or why.  As a special needs parent you need to deal with a host of professionals along the way, going through assessment to diagnosis, getting your child’s educational needs met and potentially, ongoing health issues.  For an autistic parent this can be a veritable minefield.

Parents want to work in partnership with professionals, they want their expertise on their child respected, they want to be listened to and respected as equals.  You’d think professionals would be willing to offer this partnership working, it’s in the best interests of the child, as well as all concerned – isn’t it?

It may be when comments are made towards you, or you read a report stating that ‘mum’ is this, that or the other’ and you feel a burning sense of injustice and confusion.  It may be that nothing is said or written up front, but you feel that things are more difficult than they should be, inexplicably.  So you do a Subject Access Request to find out why.

A parent on the autistic spectrum won’t always communicate exactly the same as a typical parent might, despite their best efforts.  There is a shocking lack of autism awareness out there among professionals, even those who who work with autistic children, have a bizarre lack of understanding of autistic parents.  This means that the parent’s normal autistic traits are being misinterpreted and misrepresented.

So when terms like ‘anxious’ pop up unexpectedly on files, written by people who have never even met you, let-alone know you, it’s beyond frustrating.  It’s actively damaging.  Because those type of words are being used against parents, to criticise their parenting and in some cases, falsely accuse them.  It can also have a direct effect on whether a child is diagnosed or not, supported or not.  Because if mum is deemed “anxious”, she is imagining problems where there are none isn’t she.  And it usually is mum who is labelled this way.

The harm caused by one professional starting the snowball, can be enormous.  Professionals not only fail to question the accuracy of other professionals (especially if it suits their own agenda), but it can become like Chinese whispers where the original word gets added to and expanded, into an ever more exaggerated version.

An autistic parent may have some ‘cluttering‘ of speech, where they speak rapidly, or they may give a very detailed explanation of their belief or rationale for something.  This is just a difference, not a problem or failing.  The problem is, when there is autism ignorance resulting in a professional misjudging these traits as signs of “anxiety”.  Especially when they are unqualified to do so.  It’s so easy to write a word down, a value judgment or personal opinion on someone, recorded for posterity.  But it is being done without any care of the potential consequences of doing so.  And it’s impossible to get it removed once it’s there.

Parenting is judged at every turn, even without you having obviously failed in any way.  You will be picked over simply by virtue of being engaged with a system you have no choice but to be, because of your special needs child.  There is something about a clique of professionals when they get together, that becomes akin to the playground.  Posher words of course, jargon thrown in there, but there is a communication style almost like a code, borne of the policies and procedures they follow.  It seems to have morphed into an hive attitude, one that leaves them feeling superior to parents, as if they are the competent ones.  Mums are just mums.

Misjudging autistic mothers as “anxious”, in fact any mothers, has it’s dark roots in misogyny, insane asylums for disobedient wives and neurotic, hysterical women attitudes of yore.  And it’s an extremely convenient tactic for professionals who don’t like mothers persisting in having their children’s needs met.

So the snowball rolls.  It grows.  Until it becomes something every professional that has their finger in the pie, uses as fact, unquestioningly.  It rolls off the tongue, we don’t want to label the child but we sure as hell will label the mother.  Just because someone is different, that makes others assume and pass judgement.  There is never any more dangerous judgement passed than when you are a parent.  Because these days there is such a horrible culture among professionals of watching parents like a hawk, for fear they are abusers or neglecters of children.  And an even more horrible one of labelling parents as an agenda for retribution.

And being labelled as having any sort of psychological issue is enough to have you accused of abuse, deemed a parenting risk.  All on the say-so of a professional who has not assessed you for “anxiety”, or even being qualified to speculate that way, but chosen to term you as “anxious” nonetheless, because they simply regurgitate a label already wrongfully recorded.

The label or opinion may have started as simply “anxious”.  It may have inexplicably grown to “highly anxious”.  Or “anxious and depressed”.  Or “anxious, depressed and not coping“.  Or even worse, “anxious and projecting that anxiety onto the children causing emotional harm”, or that old chestnut MSBP/FII.  No matter how ridiculous and untrue, these professionals are on a roll and won’t stop.  Even the “anxiety” label itself, never mind the use of it by professionals, is a snowball. Anxiety-snowball.jpg

You can write requesting the records are amended, but they won’t.  At best they will add your letter to the file and highlight it to say you disagree.  But of course that just compounds the problem, because it looks like you are disagreeing because you are “anxious and unstable”.  So your records are sullied and incorrect for eternity.  And nobody will ever take you seriously again.

It would be so much nicer and better for everyone if these professionals took their negative value judgements and used that snowball in the opposite way instead.

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The negative label snowball rolls on down the hill, even if it reaches level ground, it will continue in a circle endlessly and never fully stop growing.  The sad thing is, that the snowball is an enormous barrier to your child getting their needs met.  So when those professionals rolled the snowball, they failed your vulnerable children.

Do they do it to sidetrack families away from resources?  Then they need to wake up.  Because without early intervention, the children who the “anxious” mother seeks resources for, is going to cost the system more!

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Because a rolling snowball doesn’t just catch up more snow, it catches up people ~ and those people are impacted, real lives are affected.  And that’s on the heads of professionals.  Is that a mark they want to leave on the world..?

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“Autism Assessments – Lay Parents vs Clinicians!”

hello-i-am-an-expertMost people are expert at something – even if it’s something negative!  Autism diagnosticians such as psychologists and psychiatrists, are, purportedly, the experts in assessing and diagnosing children for autism.

So those clinicians, are the ‘expert’ assessors in making decisions on your child either having, or not having autism.  This is a person (along with colleagues), who most likely has never met the child before.  The child will be in an unnatural clinic environment and with one or more strangers, so naturally will likely not behave in their usual, natural way (the older the child the more likely this is) and may actually be inhibited through anxiety.  The diagnostician will information gather as part of the assessment process, from parents, school (nursery/playgroup/college etc.) and they really merit information that is deemed a ‘professional’ source.

Parents, the Government tell us, are experts in our own children.  Yet all too often, parental evidence taken during an NHS assessment, is seen as inferior to school or other professional advice on the child.  All children behave differently between school and home (and this can be an extremely marked difference in autistics), autistic children can mask a huge amount in school and there is so much autism ignorance among school staff anyway, why should they be relied upon to any degree and certainly not more heavily weighted than parental advice.  What’s the preciousness about ‘professionals’?  I mean think about it – a teacher in charge of a class of 30+ children, who sees an unnatural presentation of the child in an artificial setting that is focused on following ongoing instruction – or the parent who birthed that child, knew them all their life in multiple different settings and sees the best and worst of them while they are unmasked – who is more likely to have the more accurate evidence to provide!

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The questionnaires (‘clinical tools’) diagnosticians use are standard, often they have the scoring key on the form (and when they don’t, these are easily obtained) and the rest is common sense, analysing traits, behaviours and difficulties from and in, a real life context. Anyone with half a brain can information gather. It’s just looking for a pattern of evidence, and knowing what to look for in the beginning.  It doesn’t take years of training as a medical professional or psychologist to do this.  The sad thing is, many of these so-called highly qualified people, are so clueless about autism much of the time (they don’t have to have specific autism expertise as a psychologist or psychiatrist to diagnose – basic  ADOS administration training seems to be considered by CAMHS to be all they need), that this is why they over-rely on the clinical tools and sometimes ignore or minimise vital parental evidence.  You can almost see the fear of diagnosing in their eyes.

And of course all the while they disrespect parents as people seeking diagnoses for the sake of claiming benefits, they will continue to overlook parental evidence.  A little bit of respect here please!

What with the agenda not to diagnose in the first place, meaning they may attempt to derail the cause of the autism traits onto something else, such as anxiety or OCD, is it any surprise some autistic children are remaining undiagnosed. These conditions may be co-morbid to the autism, but there can be a deliberate avoidance of looking at the underlying condition that causes the co-morbidities.

An assessor does need to understand other conditions that could have some superficially similar traits as autism, hence a proper assessment should be differential. They would say that this is why it takes a qualified clinician, but there are also assessment tools for those conditions too and a little bit of the right questioning would tease out reasons behind certain behaviours, to know what they were attributable to.  Autism is after all diagnosed as a syndrome of behaviours, it’s an entirely clinical diagnosis – meaning if you have the triad of impairments you are autistic (or as they say ‘meet diagnostic criteria’ or ‘meet clinical threshold’), so there is no reason why a lay person who has done a bit of reading and has the right insights, could not in theory be accurate in diagnosing. Some of the clinicians I have come across are so inept and so reliant on questionnaires, seemingly fearful of deviating from them and unable to give credence to parental information, that it wouldn’t be hard to do better.

Of course, they are also looking for other types of alternative cause for the traits, such as attachment disorder, trauma, or something amiss in the home environment.  Whilst they do need to do this for an fully considered assessment, the parent blame culture ensures these avenues are pursued with far more regularity than they should be.  It’s another stumbling block to diagnosis.

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“An expert, more generally, is a person with extensive knowledge or ability based on research, experience, or occupation and in a particular area of study.”

Therefore, who better to know and identify the reason for the child’s difficulties – it is the child who is being assessed after all, not autism as a concept – than their expert parent.  Of course this couldn’t be said for everyone, not all parents would have the ability to do the right reading, express their child’s difficulties in accordance with the concept or context of a condition, especially if it included analysing potential alternatives.  But a fair whack of parents with reasonable intelligence and some research skills and insightful, analytical approach, could do as good a job of assessing their child (or someone else’s!) for autism as a clinician (and in some cases better).  You can also pay to go on ADOS courses.  Of course it will never be, that parents will be empowered with diagnosing their children, or that any such diagnosis would be accepted.  Potential bias/ethical considerations, ulterior motives in a few bad eggs and all sorts of other reasons exist for that.  But the point being made is, that parents are usually the first to recognise their child’s difficulties and ‘experts’ need to take that gold dust on board, value it and respect it.

The NHS has to stop misdiagnosing, failing to diagnose and making such a meal out of assessing children for autism.  Why are there such ridiculously long waiting lists?  NHS NICE states that children should be assessed within 3 months of referral!  Trust what the parents are telling you, utilise their expertise and respect them.  Realise that telling a parent “autistic traits but not enough for a diagnosis” is  failing that child and their family.  They will walk out of there without any support, unless they happen to have co-morbid mental health conditions which they are treated for.  But any such treatment may be useless and even harmful, if their autistic neurology is not taken into account.  And if you do fail that child, their already compromised outcomes may become direGet your autism act together NHS clinicians, or you might just find an army of parents at your doors, who can do a better job at it than you!